Government set to bring in legally binding environmental targets

The government is planning to introduce ambitious, legally binding targets in its Environment Bill in a bid to tackle environmental and climate challenges.

On 19 August, it pledged to introduced at least one long-term target in four priority areas: air quality, resource efficiency and waste reduction, biodiversity, and water. To ensure that the most pressing or newly emerging issues are addressed, it assured that further priority areas and targets can be introduced at a later date, informed by the latest evidence.

Under air quality, it is planning to explore targets focused on reducing public exposure to fine particular matter – the air pollutant with the most significant impact on public health. Elsewhere, it will look at increasing resource productivity and cutting the volume of residual waste and plastic pollution generated, while targets to tackle pollution from agriculture and waste-water to improve water quality are under consideration. The government will also look at targets to restore and create wildlife-rich habitats on protected sites on land, in freshwaters and at sea, as well as the wider countryside.

The targets will apply to future governments, with Defra using an evidence-led process, collaborating with independent experts and stakeholders, to ensure they are “strong, meaningful and environmental outcome focused”. The environmental watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection will report annually on progress that has been made in improving the natural environment in accordance with the targets.

Once the targets are developed, businesses, communities and civil society will be able to respond to a public consultation and share their views. This is expected in early 2022.